Borderline personality disorder is a condition that is most commonly diagnosed by the presence of several symptoms related to an individual's impulsive behaviors, relationship patterns and self-perception. Symptoms of impulsiveness related to borderline personality disorder might include behaviors that potentially are self-harming. A person with this disorder usually will have a personal history of unstable relationships. He or she might experience a shifting self-image that is easily influenced by external events. The symptoms of borderline personality disorder affect every aspect of the individual's life, including work or school functioning and interpersonal relationships.
One of the most common symptoms is a pattern of rocky interpersonal relationships. An individual with this disorder might experience a rapidly changing view of significant others. Lacking the ability to view others in shades of gray, the individual initially might believe a new acquaintance to be perfect but later see the same person as unworthy. Fear of being alone can lead the individual to cling inappropriately to others. Conversely, he or she might adopt a rejecting attitude in an attempt to preempt possible abandonment.
Impulsive and potentially self-injurious behavior is another of the most common symptoms of borderline personality disorder. A person with this disorder might frequently engage in risky behaviors that could lead to physical harm or other serious consequences, such as reckless driving, going on gambling sprees or having unprotected sex. Impulsiveness also might manifest as a tendency to express anger inappropriately, which could negatively affect social interactions or even lead to physical fights. These impulsive behaviors might become more severe in less structured settings.
Another common symptom of borderline personality disorder is frequent change in the individual's sense of personal identity. The person might over-identify with significant others because of an inability to define his or her own values, goals and preferences. Instability of self-concept can lead to numerous disruptions in work life and personal relationships. Low self-esteem might also occur in relation to the individual's undefined sense of self.
Typically, the symptoms of borderline personality disorder become apparent by early adulthood. A diagnosis of borderline personality disorder requires the ongoing presence of at least five symptoms that have a severe impact on daily functioning. The symptoms of borderline personality disorder must be distinguished from the effects of a medical condition or medications.
Borderline personality disorder sometimes might be confused with other types of personality disorders, such as histrionic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder. In addition, borderline personality disorder frequently occurs along with other mental health problems, including mood disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorder and substance abuse. Personality disorders generally are diagnosed by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional with specialized training. General practitioners or family doctors typically do not have the appropriate background to accurately diagnose or treat borderline personality disorder.